Middlesex United Way: U.S. has kept its knee on our necks for 400 years

This week’s Middlesex United Way guest column is taking the opportunity to use our platform in future weeks to help elevate the voices of those in the black community. This features a guest column written by Middletown resident, Bishop William J. McKissick Jr. We want to do our part to create an environment where everyone is heard and seen. — President and CEO Kevin Wilhelm.

MIDDLETOWN — After observing the brutal murder on May 25 of Mr. George Floyd, I had to take a time out just to get my emotions under control. They were all over the place. Rage, anger, disgust, but, sadly shock and unbelief was not among my emotions.

Why? Because far too many names come to mind of black men and women who have unjustly and horrifically lost their lives. Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Ezell Ford, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Dreasjon “Sean” Reed, and the list goes on.

The image of this fully grown black man was face down on his belly on the ground, hands cuffed behind his back, four officers holding him down, with one of the officers having his knee pressed firmly into the neck of Mr. Floyd.

We found out later that his knee was there for a total of eight minutes and 46 seconds. This was long enough to kill him. This image will be forever in my memory, as it will for countless others. If seeing wasn’t enough, then hearing the struggling and broken voice of this big black man crying out for his mama, and his cries to the officers, “I can’t breathe, please, I can’t breathe.” These words will forever be etched in my mind.

I can hear those words, “I can’t breathe,” being echoed through the centuries.

I can hear the men and women crying from the bottom of the slave ships, “I can’t breathe,” because of the stench they had to endure after being snatched from their homes in Africa.

I can hear the words,“I can’t breathe” as a noose was tightly tied around the necks of black men and women who were being hanged.

I can hear the words “I can’t breathe” as a mother’s child or father’s family was taken away by the slave master.

I can hear the words “I can’t breathe” as vicious dogs and fire hoses were used against black men, women and children in the ’60s.

I can hear the words “I can’t breathe” of the family and community who lost four precious girls to the church bombing.

I can hear the words “I can’t breathe” as tear gas was being discharged this past week.

I can hear the words “I can’t breathe” throughout each continuing decade as we continue to see unfair housing — redlining; inadequate educational resources in our inner-city schools.

We are still the last hired first fired. And yes, public safety, as we see in Mr. Floyd’s and so many other cases.

America has kept its knee on our necks for over 400 years as we cried out “‘I can’t breathe.” From the day we were thrown into the slave ships, and began the infamous Middle Passage to America, we began to lose our breath.

Therefore, we, as a strong, active ministerial alliance consisting of the African-American pastors of Middletown are committed to resuscitating our future.

We will continue our focus on four key areas in our city as we have been doing for the past 23 years: education, housing, economics and public safety.

This does not mean that these are the only areas we will look at, however, our main focus will be on these areas. Where ever we see injustices, we will get involved and remove the knee from around our necks.

The Rev. William J. McKissick Jr. is president of the Middletown Ministerial Alliance.